6’3”, 265, 62-year-old married white male presented with Stage 4 metastatic melanoma in June, 2019
That’s the short story
Here is the long story…
I have lived a charmed life! When I was in college, I went to work for Youth For Christ leading Campus Life clubs in suburban high schools. I was a terrible missionary! But I met my wife, Victoria, who also worked at YFC, and that redeemed that chapter of my life. We have been married for 42 years. Almost every good decision that we have made in our journey has been instigated by Vic. We have two daughters who I am proud of. Both married godly men, and both have given their lives to serve Christ by serving others, and both have chosen to live and work in poor communities. We also had the opportunity to raise a young man named Paul from the time he was in the 6thgrade until he got through with college. We think of Paul as a son.
For 12 years I worked for a company that represented roofing and insulation construction systems for commercial and industrial buildings. It was during those years that I got my “2nd conversion”.
I hated my job for the first 6 years . It was a dirty industry with nasty people and nasty practices, and the company I worked for was not much better. I would have a “quiet time” (Bible and prayer) every morning to build myself up so that I could endure my time at work. And I was out the door at 4:30pm on the button every day so that I could go home and do important spiritual stuff like love my family, go to Bible studies and teach small groups and Sunday School classes. One day on the way to work as I was listening to and singing with some worship music, I suddenly became aware of God’s presence in my car. It was unexpected, it was undeniable; and I was filled with both peace and fear. I went real quiet. even though I was driving and in traffic, the world around me seemed to stop. And I felt God speak to me. He asked me, “What if this (your job) is the ministry to which I have called you? What if this is the pulpit I have given you?” Then the sensation lifted.
I knew exactly what He meant. He was showing me that He is the God of all things, not just the God of the church, or my spiritual life. As such, He has a will and an interest for my industry (construction) just like He has a will and a plan for the church, for me personally, and for my family. He is interested, really interested, in the construction industry, because His kingdom is over all. And I was no longer an employee using my job to get a paycheck, but an ambassador of His kingdom sent to represent His interest and His culture in the construction industry as far as my sphere of influence would reach. That morning I walked into the office and looked at my desk, my work, my fellow employees and my customers in a new light. My work was as sacred as my role on Sunday mornings at my church. (Ask me sometime about what that looked like.)
From that morning and for the next 6 years, I treasured my job. I couldn’t wait to get to work. I loved what I did because it had a noble and sacred purpose. I was seeking God’s kingdom in truly tangible ways. Matthew 6:33 became my life verse: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all of these things will be added to you.” The next 6 years our company tripled in size. God honored this shift in attitude in so many ways. There were times where me and two or three other men who were also Christ-followers would stay after work and hold prayer times for our company, our bosses and our customers, always seeking to see Christ honored in what we did and the way we did it. We stopped doing all of the ugly things that were rampant in that industry. People wanted to do business with our company. We had 4 of the 10 top salesmen in our entire industry working for us, and they were all “kingdom first” men. I learned more about ministry and serving God in those 6 years than at any other season of my life.
At the end of 1990, Victoria and I felt that God was calling us to be missionaries to South Africa. Nelson Mandela had just been released from prison, and apartheid was collapsing. There was an immenant change in government on the horizon. In South Africa racism at its strongest was being challenged. We knew that the answer for that country could not be merely political. Lives needed to be transformed from the inside out, and the kingdom of God is the answer for that. We began to explore possibilities. Vic was finishing up an education degree that she started once our girls started school. There was a church in Cape Town that we read about and had some “two-degrees-of-separation” with that had started a multi-racial school – something that was unheard of in South Africa at that time. We prayed and sought council.
Around the first of April, I was called into a meeting by the owners of our company and offered a vice-presidency which included bonuses, stock and a huge raise, While I was in that meeting I had another one of those “God-is-here” moments. He clearly told me to not take that offer, but to tell them that I needed to pray about it. When I got home to tell Vic, we both knew instantly that God was saying, “Put in your notice. Now is the time that I want you to go.” So instead of taking their generous offer, the next day I put in my notice at work, and we began to make serious plans to move to Cape Town. Plans were in place to move that summer after Vic’s graduation. I would join the church’s leadership team, and Vic would work in the school.
Then an opportunity came up for us to detour through England for a year to attend a seminary/leadership program there called Covenant College. We had applied to that program twice before and been denied both times. The team that ran the school were also involved with the church in Cape Town. When they heard about our plans, they approached us and invited us to do that program. We felt peace and a rise of faith for this, and got to live and study in England for a year. It was a great year for our family. We made lifelong friends there. I developed close relationships with a few men who became mentors to me. One in particular, Bryn Jones, became like a father in the faith to me until he died. He still is like a father to me. I think about him every day, and am grateful for the wisdom, love and guidance he poured into my life.
Six weeks after we got to England, the situation in Cape Town became very unstable, and the church that had planned to receive us rescinded their invitation. We were in school in England with no clear plans for the future, and a burned bridge behind us with the company I had worked for. Yet we felt peace even though our plans to move to South Africa as missionaries had fallen through.
Later that year, the church that had sent us out as missionaries lost their pastor. And I had the privilege of moving back to Memphis to lead it. I led Covenant Community Church for the next 12-1/2 years. CCC was a great group of people that quickly became open to coloring outside the lines - doing nontraditional and creative things to help people think differently about what it means to follow Jesus. We started a speed-metal, alternative music club in our basement called Club 704B. We had residential discipleship programs for young men and women, many of whom came out of the rave culture – so lots of bright colored hair, tattoos and body piercings. We preached about engaging our community, so over 20 families and households moved into a neighborhood that most people intentionally avoid. It was a blast! A lot of good things happened during those years, and my life was as shaped by the mish-mash of wonderful people there.
I resigned from Covenant Community Church in 2004, and bounced around for a few years selling real estate and helping a friend plant a church downtown. Honeslty, parts of those 3 years were the darkest times of my life. I struggled with depression. I felt cut off from the communities that had been so important to me for 20 years. I even considered suicide at one point. I had 2 heart attacks 18 months apart. I believe I am alive today because God carried me through that time. Two things were lifelines to me: the hope of the kingdom of God that I could not shake, and the friendship of my son’s dog, Holyfield. That may not sound very spiritual, but it is the truth.
Holyfield was a 90lb, boxer - beautiful dog with a powerful, broad chest and a wonderfully expressive face. He had a small piece of his ear that was bitten off while he was at a dog park by another boxer whose name was Tyson. (True story!) He was clearly Paul’s dog; but when Paul was not home, Holyfield would hang out with me. He had an amazing personality. We could read each other’s minds. I could articulate what he was thinking (he had a very small vocabulary). He would stare at me intensely as though to say, “I think we should play. I think we should play. We should play. I want to play. Let’s play. I’ll get the rope. You’ll have fun. Let’s play.” You need someone like that in your life when you’re depressed! He always made me smile - except when he farted. That dog had the worst gas! But even when he did, he would jerk his head around like, “Who did that!?”. Then he would look at his butt, look at me with remorse, and slowly leave the room with the walk of shame. God used Holyfield in my life. I think he did the same for Paul. Holyfield died earlier this year. He was 17 years old! I had not seen him in years, but I cried. I can’t imagine how it must have hurt Paul, and probably still does.
In the fall of 2007, I got an unexpected phone call asking me to become the executive director for CCHF (Christian Community Health Fellowship). (That is a funny story, and you should ask me about that sometime!) I took the job because I had another one of those unmistakable God moments when the Holy Spirit spoke to me in a way that cut across all logic or personal desire: “I want you to take that job. I will show you why later.” (I don’t get those experiences every day. I have heard the Holy Spirit like that maybe 4 times in my life.) I took what amounted to a 65% cut in salary to lead a healthcare related organization when I knew nothing about healthcare. My only experience in healthcare was that I had been a patient - and a really bad patient at that! It was one of the greatest decisions I have ever made. I have loved leading CCHF for the past 12 or so years.
Think of CCHF as a spiritual SWAT team that intentionally crosses boundaries informally set up by the church, by medicine, and by society, in order to seriously, thoughtfully and intentionally live out the gospel by loving, serving, and often living among the poorest and most marginalized people in our society and world. We are Jesus-loving activists who believe that we see Christ in the poor. We value them. We love them. We learn from them. And we constantly wean ourselves from the deceitful promises of medicine, which often presents itself as a pseudo-messiah, while luring health professionals by appealing to their pride with offers of respect and success. We understand that following Christ is always a call to leave something - usually things and comforts. If we follow Him long enough He will eventually lead us into difficulties and danger. But He is already in that space, and so it is always a call worth following, and offers a life that is far more rewarding than pursuing leisure and luxury.
From youth woker to construction salesman to student to pastor to real estate agent to leading a healthcare organization… It all sounds pretty disjointed. But I have never changed Employers. I have always seen myself working for Jesus Christ. He has been my Supervisor and Director in every job. And He has led me well - far better than I have followed. He has not only used me in each of those seasons, but He has added much to my life in each one. He is always life-giving. It has been and continues to be a great adventure. I can honestly say with the writer of Psalms that “the boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places for me”. I have come to know from 46 years of experience that God is good, and I admire everything about Him.
This season of my life will likely involve some dark and difficult places. He is already there, and I am eager to follow him. He never changes. He will be the same good and wise Father to me in the next few months that He has always been. I hope you come to know Him like I have. It will only bring joy and meaning and a constantly full heart.